What makes you come alive?

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — attributed to Howard Thurman.

You can spot someone who loves what they do a mile off. When you ask them about their work, they give off an almost blinding light with their incandescent joy. Which is not to say that they never get frustrated, annoyed, or tempted to quit. Someone who is passionate about what they do is quite likely to experience all of those things often, because anything truly engaging, that you believe in with all your heart, is never going to be perfect. There are always going to be things you can’t achieve, and because you are passionate about it, those things are going to really hurt.

Someone who is wholly invested in their job is quite likely to have QFQ days (those days where you find yourself screaming “I QUIT! I F*&^@ing QUIT!”) on a frequent, if not regular, basis. But most of the time, all screaming aside, if you believe in your job with that kind of intensity, quitting is the very last thing you will do, even on those days when you would happily throw your resignation sky high and shout it from the rooftops. Even on those days, when someone asks you what you do, you will probably still glow, even if it is slightly muted.

I know that I do. Even as I am ranting about the things that drive me mad, I remain high as a kite from the sheer exhilaration of the good bits of my job.

Where there is desire there is gonna be a flame
where there is a flame, someone’s bound to get hurt
but just because it burns doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You’ve gotta get up and try and try and try.
–Pink, Try.

The trick with a job you are this passionate about is balance. I have not yet worked out how to care passionately about what I do, yet be able to walk away from the job at the end of the day, knowing I did my best, and not beating myself up over the things I can’t do, can’t fix, or can’t change.

One of the other ways to spot someone who loves what they do is from the exhaustion around their eyes. The occasional dummy spit over simply not being able to do everything. The rare, but deeply felt despair over the problems that simply can’t be solved.

Bob Brown recently said that you can’t change the world from a position of pessimism, yet I’d be astounded if he did not occasionally feel pessimistic, even despairing himself. You can’t fight 24/7/365 without sometimes burning out.

Perhaps the balance is to be found in the overall ratio of exhilaration to despair. I do know one thing though. However close it is to the end of an exhausting year, however many obstacles I have clambered over, only to find bigger ones still in front of me, however loudly I want to scream: Giving everything I have to a job that I believe in with my whole heart is the only way I can be everything I have the potential to be. It’s the only way to live a whole life. Anything else is just marking time.

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